Dead Fish (2004)
Whenever there is a list of genres associated with a film a warning light should go off. If you need more than two genres to describe a movie it is usually not a good thing. There are naturally enough a few exceptions to the rule but the 2004 action, comedy, drama, thriller ‘Dead Fish’ is unfortunately not such an exception. It takes a good even reliable premise and tries too hard to make every possible genre work. Fundamentally this is a story of a man who experiences a day where every possible situation turns out wrong. He spirals into circumstances beyond his control to the point where his life is in danger. If you want to see how this should be done pick up a copy of 1985’s ‘After Hours’. Of course that was directed by Martin Scorsese and few directors can live up to any film he created. In a plot like this you need one pivotal event that triggers the rest of the story. This is the lynch pin on which everything that follows depends. In this case it is a plot device not around in 1985 but is all too possible now; two cell phones are switched. This may sound simple enough and in this case it permits the film to have a solid foundation. The problem is maintaining sufficient probability to keep the audience engaged. The film reverts in to humor that is too broad to keep the focus on the characters.
The flick was directed by Charley Stadler who is fairly well known in Germany for his commercial work. This is his first foray as writer and director for a feature length film. His success in the commercial and advertising world has naturally affected his style here. The film is episodic, short segments strung together. He is known for an innovative visual technique that may be fantastic for a one minute commercial but can wear thin when extended to ninety minutes of a movie. While credited for the story along with Thomas Geiger, another newcomer from Germany, the screenplay was done by Adam Kreutner. In his resume is a short, independent movie, ‘Riddle’ and an Indy feature film ‘Circles’. After ‘Dead Fish’ he went on to pen the lamentable sequel ‘Open Water 2: Adrift’. The script is as good as possible considering the convolutions contained in the story line. What would normally be a character driven film is over shadowed by the situational mayhem. The foundation of character development is still in there but that is more due to the excellence of the actors than anything else.
Speaking of the cast this is far better than the film deserves. The downside is they are for the most part playing roles that parody much better performances in their illustrious careers. For many years no one has played a psychotic killer quite like Gary Oldman. In this film he takes this well honed persona and presents a spoof of that type of character. Even with much less to work with his talent amazingly shines through. Billy Zane is well regarded for his quirky and diverse roles. In this film he is a low level person who gathers information and helps top track people down. He plays it as a variation of other roles he has had but the material is not enough for him to get his teeth into. Even with this set against him he is talented and gets to show it to some degree at least. Then there is a notable actor of merit and talent, Terence Stamp. He is one of the most versatile actors of his generation with parts ranging from an Australian drag queen to a super powered villain. Here he is the titular Fish and target of much of the potential violence.
The film opens with Danny Devine (Robert Carlyle) in a car, on a cell phone asking a man if he knows where his wife is that very minute. He tells Mr. Smith that at the present moment his wife is in a cheap motel room screaming in pleasure. The actual dialogue is far more graphic consisting of grunts, shouts and a plethora of cockney intoned foul language. The point of the diatribe is Mr. Smith owes Devine three thousand pounds and has been remiss in attending to his debt. It is nice to see a man that genuinely enjoys his work especially when it is in the collection department. The writers do not waste time demonstrating the bizarre nature of this film or its characters. The next shot is a man named Lynch (Gary Oldman) having sex. He is dressed in formal wear and black leather gloves. She is in an evening dressed bent over in front of Lynch. The phone rings and she slows down, mutes the television she is watching and hands him the phone. Both of them look completely bored with the act they are performing so it really wasn’t much of an interruption. Lynch has received his next assignment, someone to kill. He goes off to dispatch his victim. His next job is in London and Lynch sets out. All of this is to just set up two of the characters in the coming story.
The real story, as it is, concerns an American living in London, Abe Klein (Andrew Lee Potts). He is at a train station meeting his girlfriend Mimi (Elena Anaya). She has some news for him; they are pregnant. Abe is only twenty years old and works as a locksmith so this is a rather unexpected turn of events for him. If he was able to look ahead for the coming day this is perhaps the most normal thing that it will bring. Mimi wants to return to her family in Spain and is on her way. She borrows Abe’s cell phone but while at the train station it is grabbed by a thief. As he is escaping Lynch happens to be there and intercedes to stop the crook with a single well placed blow. In the confusion Lynch’s cell phone is switched with Abe’s. As happens only in silly flicks the hard as nails Lynch sees Mimi and falls instantly head over heels in love with her. Lynch has to try to figure out a way to get together with Mimi while tracking down his next victim Samuel Fish (Terence Stamp). Lynch has as a list of people to kill including Dragan (Karel Roden), so his plate is full complicating his intensions for the lovely Mimi. Dragan is a psychopathic killer who hates anything English. Naturally he lives in London. Oldman is usually enough in the way of the psycho hit man but I guess the writers wanted to add a little more.
This is a slapstick farce that has elements of thriller in it but ultimately it would have to be listed as a dark comedy. The theatrical release for the film was mostly centered on European markets so there is a good chance that fans of these actors have not heard much about this film. This is one thing that the distributor, Image Entertainment, does exceptionally well. They are a great source of little films in the art houses and foreign markets and give them a chance here in the States. The DVD features Dolby 5.1 audio and an anamorphic 2.35:1 video. Both are very well done. The special feature not available in the screener includes cast interviews. While this film could have been better constructed it is a fun viewing if for no other reason than kicking back with some friends and having a beer and pizza afternoon.